In an effort to define the church as something everyone would feel safe in, it has adopted certain terms. Terms like “community,” “family,” and “The Body.” As the church, we desire that people would not only feel safe, but also privileged and included. That makes sense, in a lot of ways we are all looking for this kind of inclusion. However, our individual perceptions and experiences of what church is seldom resembles the verbiage used.
We are all looking for belonging. A place or group of people who will accept us as we are. A place that allows us to be embraced, as we embrace them. To know, as we are known. A place that allows us to connect without the usual social facades between us. A place safe from shame, yet not immune to constructive criticism. That’s a tall order for the church that we experience today. Especially, if we belong to churches that do not have consistent opportunities for maturing in discipleship, inner healing and deliverance.
The churches that do practice these things can be messy because they attract the ones Jesus actually came for. Jesus came for the immature, emotionally hurt, sexually broken, and spiritually cold. Jesus came for the social misfits, the addicted and the abused. For these people, finding a place of belonging is all they’ve ever wanted. While these churches are a safe haven for the misfits, they are not safe for those who simply want to fulfill their Sunday obligation to attend church.
A friend of mine is the pastor of a church made up of former drug addicts and gangbangers. Their entire focus is ministering to the same group they all came out of. As the congregation matured, they began to marry and have children. Before long, they were faced with the uncomfortable notion that it probably wasn’t a very good idea to continue to minister to such a rough crowd. After all, it may have a negative influence on their kids. Yet, they still felt that the call of God had not changed one bit.
This is not an uncommon battle for churches who are on the front lines. More often than not, the church chooses to protect what they’ve got by opting for something more exclusive. So much for belonging being open to everyone. Suddenly, they start sending the silent but loud message, “You can only belong if you are like us.”
If everyone around you shares roughly the same value system and has an acceptable level of social intelligence, then you are not in true belonging. True belonging is accepting of anyone. True belong includes differences. While it is normally our differences that divide, we also never grow without them. We never are challenged to grow, when no one around us is growing. We never have to assess our motivations, when there is no conflict of values. We never have to look at our hearts when we are not confronted by people unlike us.
In reality, if everyone is not free to enter and be embraced as they are, then neither are you. When you start to accept everyone, it may not feel comfortable, but the Holy Spirit loves to show up in these places.
Our search for the place of belonging will only end when we find folks that realize we are all screwed up, and that’s okay. In this place, we can trade shallowness for intentionally learning how to love one another. Hopefully, it will be in the context of a local church. A local church that chooses friendship, fun, sharing life, and helping each other with their struggles. Then, we collectively mature into the image of Christ.